Born in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, Mexico, Salma and her brother, Sami, were raised by their Spanish mother and Lebanese father in a strict Catholic household. Growing up in an oil-rich boomtown, they wanted for nothing. When she was 12 years old, she attended a convent school in New Orleans, Louisiana, but was expelled for unruly behavior and constant practical joking. As a teenager, she lived with her aunt in Houston, Texas until she had graduated from high school. She later enrolled in Mexico City's Universidad Iberoamericana and was bitten by the acting bug.
She dropped out of university to pursue an acting career. Her first break was working in a soap opera, Teresa, in Mexico. The show was a huge success and Salma knew her star was rising. When she decided to leave the show in 1991, her fans were so shocked at her departure that unfounded rumors of her having had an affair with the President of Mexico prompted her departure.
When Salma arrived in Los Angeles, her dreams of acting in films hit a roadblock. She found that Latin women were generally cast in stereotypical roles of maids or prostitutes. She did manage to land small roles in television shows like Street Justice and The Sinbad Show, but the more substantial roles she sought continued to elude her.
Frustrated, she was booked on Paul Rodriguez's late night Spanish language talk show and unloaded her pent-up anger during the interview. To her good fortune, producer Robert Rodriguez and his wife, Elizabeth Avellan, were watching the interview and were impressed by her obvious intelligence, her passion and her beauty. Both thought she would be ideal for the film Roberto was producing: Desperado starring Antonio Banderas. The big budget sequel to El Mariachi put Salma on Hollywood's radar. After playing a cameo role in Rodriguez's follow-up film, From Dusk til Dawn, studio offers began to roll in. After varying degrees of financial and critical success with films like The Faculty, Fools Rush In, Wild Wild West and Dogma, Salma put on the producers hat and breathed life into the role she dreamed of for many years, Frida Kahlo. In the appropriately titled Frida, Salma played the title role in the biopic of one of Mexico's most celebrated painters. The film was a critical success and was nominated for six Academy Awards, including "Best Actress" for Salma Hayek. She was the first Latino woman to ever be nominated for that award. She didn't win that night, but the film walked away with the Oscars for "Best Make-Up" and "Best Original Score".
After firmly establishing herself as an actress and a producer in Hollywood, she moved into another field that interested her: television production. Her first project as a television executive producer was In the Time of the Butterflies, starring herself and Edward James Olmos. After a few other television movies, she brought Ugly Betty to the air in 2006. The show is based on a Columbian telenovela "Yo Soy Betty La Fea". In her ongoing crusade to break with the Hollywood stereotypes, Ugly Betty focused on the life of fashion magazine employee, Betty Suarez, who is sweet, hard working and smart, but not as thin and beautiful as her co-workers. In 2007, the show picked up a Golden Globe for Best Comedy. Its star, America Ferrera, won an Emmy that same year for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.
Salma and Henri Pinault, son of billionaire Francois Pinault, welcomed their daughter, Valentina Paloma Pinault, into their lives. She was born on September 21 2007.